Agence France Presse has filed a dispatch from Irpin after a Russian retreat returned it to Ukrainian control. The city suffered extraordinary levels of destruction and an evacuation operation continues.
The last survivors in the ruins of Irpin have just one word to describe the Russians who have retreated after one of the pivotal battles of the war in Ukraine.
“Fascists!” rages Bogdan, 58, as he and his friends walk a dog through a deserted town center that is free of shelling for the first time in a month. His friends nod in agreement.
“Every 20 to 30 seconds we heard mortar shots. And so all day long. Just destruction,” the tent construction worker told AFP who reached Irpin on Friday.
It used to be a smart commuter town in the pine forests on Kyiv’s northwestern edge. But Irpin held off the full force of Russia’s invasion, becoming the closest Moscow’s forces got to the center of the capital some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. The town whose once leafy parks were left strewn with bodies is now back under Ukrainian control, as Russian troops hastily pull back from outside Kyiv.
Victory came at a terrible price that has left Irpin looking more like Aleppo or Grozny than an affluent satellite town in Ukraine. Barely a building has escaped the fighting unscathed. Shelling has blasted huge chunks out of modern, pastel-colored apartment blocks. The foggy streets are eerily empty, littered with cars with bullet-scarred windscreens, and echoing with the sound of stray dogs.
“It’s the apocalypse,” says a Ukrainian soldier who hitches a ride across the empty town.
For the past three weeks Irpin has been closed off to the media since the death of a US journalist, with Ukrainian authorities saying it was too dangerous to enter.
Now, near a sign in the town center that says “I love Irpin” with a red heart, the handful of the town’s residents who stayed tell how they survived more than a month of relentless shelling.
“We hid in the basement. They fired Grad rockets, mortars and tank shells,” says Bogdan, asking to be identified only by his first name. “My wife and I came under mortar fire twice. But that’s okay, we are alive and well.”
Rescue workers are still retrieving the dead from Irpin and placing them in body bags, before taking them to the blown-up bridge that links the town with Kyiv. The bridge is covered with dozens of burned, bullet-ridden and abandoned cars, which rescue workers are now trying to clear.
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